No announcement yet.

FBI's Theory On Anthrax Is Doubted

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • FBI's Theory On Anthrax Is Doubted

    FBI's Theory On Anthrax Is Doubted

    By Guy Gugliotta and Gary Matsumoto, Washington Post Staff Writers

    A significant number of scientists and biological warfare experts are expressing skepticism about the FBI's view that a single disgruntled American scientist prepared the spores and mailed the deadly anthrax letters that killed five people last year.

    These sources say that making a weaponized aerosol of such sophistication and virulence would require scientific knowledge, technical competence, access to expensive equipment and safety know-how that are probably beyond the capabilities of a lone individual.

    As a result, a consensus has emerged in recent months among experts familiar with the technology needed to turn anthrax spores into the deadly aerosol that was sent to Sens. Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) and Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) that some of the fundamental assumptions driving the FBI's investigation may be flawed.

    "In my opinion, there are maybe four or five people in the whole country who might be able to make this stuff, and I'm one of them," said Richard O. Spertzel, chief biological inspector for the U.N. Special Commission from 1994 to 1998. "And even with a good lab and staff to help run it, it might take me a year to come up with a product as good."

    Instead, suggested Spertzel and more than a dozen experts interviewed by The Washington Post in recent weeks, investigators might want to reexamine the possibility of state-sponsored terrorism, or try to determine whether weaponized spores may have been stolen by the attacker from an existing, but secret, biodefense program or perhaps given to the attacker by an accomplice.

    The Defense Department and FBI refused repeated requests from The Post to discuss recent developments in the anthrax investigation. But in some important respects, the official version of events -- developed in part during the early, frantic days of the probe -- is at odds with the available evidence, the experts say.

    A profile of the attacker issued by the FBI last November described an angry, "lone individual" with "some" science background who could weaponize the anthrax spores in a basement laboratory for as little as $2,500. The FBI acknowledged that the sender may not have been a native English speaker but emphasized that there was no "direct or clear" link between the attacks and foreign terrorism.

    More recently, investigators appear to have abandoned the idea of an amateur attacker, but they continue to focus on a lone, domestic scientist, probably an insider. Attention has centered on medical doctor and virologist Steven J. Hatfill, a former U.S. Army scientist identified by the Justice Department as a "person of interest" in the investigation. Hatfill vigorously denies any involvement.

    Scientists suggested that the loner theory appeared flawed even in the opening days of the investigation. The profile was issued three weeks after U.S. Army scientists had examined the Daschle spores and found them to be 1.5 to 3 microns in size and processed to a grade of 1 trillion spores per gram -- 50 times finer than anything produced by the now-defunct U.S. bioweapons program and 10 times finer than the finest known grade of Soviet anthrax spores. A micron is a millionth of a meter.

    "Just collecting this stuff is a trick," said Steven A. Lancos, executive vice president of Niro Inc., one of the leading manufacturers of spray dryers, viewed by several sources as the likeliest tool needed to weaponize the anthrax bacteria. "Even on a small scale, you still need containment. If you're going to do it right, it could cost millions of dollars."

    Possible Foreign Source

    Also early in the case, U.S. authorities dismissed the possibility that Iraq could have sponsored the attacks because investigators determined that the spores had been coated with silica to make them disperse quickly, rather than the mineral bentonite, regarded by the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command as Iraq's additive of choice.

    In fact, however, Iraq's alleged preference for bentonite appears to be based on a single sample of a common pesticide collected by U.N. authorities from Iraq's Al Hakam biological weapons facility in the mid-1990s.By contrast, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency warned in declassified documents as early as 1989 that Iraq was acquiring silica to use as a chemical weapons additive.

    In 1998, Iraq reported to the United Nations that it had conducted an artillery test of a live biological agent that used silica as a dispersant. And U.N. and U.S. intelligence documents reviewed by The Post show that Iraq had bought all the essential equipment and ingredients needed to weaponize anthrax bacteria with silica to a grade consistent with the Daschle and Leahy letters.

    Daschle, Leahy and a few other senators and representatives have received periodic FBI briefings on the investigation, and Leahy said last week that the agency "has not foreclosed the possibility of a foreign source of this attack." However, the FBI's continued focus on Hatfill shows the agency's preoccupation with a domestic loner.

    Bush administration officials have acknowledged that the anthrax attacks were an important motivator in the U.S. decision to confront Iraq, and several senior administration officials say today that they still strongly suspect a foreign source -- perhaps Iraq -- even though no one has publicly said so.

    That Iraq had the wherewithal to make the anthrax letters does not mean it is the guilty party. Still, the FBI's early dismissal of the possibility may have prematurely closed a legitimate line of inquiry.

    "Iraq almost certainly had their anthrax spores in a powdered form," Spertzel said. "They had used silica gel to aid in dispersibility of [wheat] smut spores, and also indicated they were looking at it as a carrier for aflatoxin," a carcinogen.

    Outer Limits of Technology

    Since the attacks one year ago, scientists have been able to identify the anthrax bacteria used in the Daschle and Leahy letters as the "Ames strain," a virulent anthrax used in U.S. biodefense programs.

    Analysts are examining lab variants of the Ames strain to find possible sources for the original spores, but scientists and biowarfare experts say the additive used to disperse the spores may be as instructive as the spores themselves.

    Even the sparse evidence made public by the investigation -- the uniformly tiny particle size and the trillion-spore-per-gram concentration -- has been enough to show many researchers that whoever weaponized the spores was operating at the outer limits of known aerosol technology. The mailer was brutally efficient in making a very special product for a very special mission.

    The anthrax mailer needed a powder that could negotiate the U.S. postal system without absorbing so much moisture that it would cake up. At the end of the trip, the coated spores had to be light and supple enough to fly into the air with no delivery system beyond the rip of a letter opener through an envelope.

    Finally, the spores had to be small enough for potential victims to inhale them deep into their lungs so that only a tiny number of spores would be needed to kill -- far fewer than the dosages anticipated by the U.S. government for the cruder aerosols of the past.

    The answer was silica -- the same silicon dioxide that comprises substances ranging from beach sand to window glass. The attacker needed a special kind of silica, however, because the aerosol that delivered the spores was as sophisticated as any on the market.

    "You need to get a drug into the bloodstream as an alternative to injecting it," said pharmaceutical scientist Richard Dalby of the University of Maryland's Aerosol Lab. "You need the drug to get much deeper into the lung, where the membranes are thinner, and to do that, you need smaller particles."

    The pharmaceutical industry is the leader in this technology, Dalby added, but "there's only been an interest in generating tiny particles for that purpose for about the last 10 years."

    Several sources agreed that the most likely way to build the coated spores would be to use fine glass particles, known generically as "fumed silica" or "solid smoke," and mix them with the spores in a spray dryer. "I know of no other technique that might give you that finished product," Spertzel said.

    According to William C. Patrick III, the former chief of product development for the U.S. Army's now-defunct bioweapons program, U.S. government scientists made biological agents using spray dryers, but did not spray dry anthrax.

    Fumed silica grains are between 0.012 and 0.300 of a micron in size, and will readily adhere to the surface of any larger particle, such as an anthrax spore. Coated particles will easily disperse, because the grains act as tiny "ball bearings," enabling the larger bits to skid past one another.

    Under an electron microscope, fumed silica would look like cotton balls strung together into strands that branch out in every direction. Their extremely small size gives them an aerodynamic quality, and their high surface area allows them to readily trap moisture, acting as a natural dessicant.

    "If you packaged this stuff in a container, it would float out, and it's highly dispersible and messy to deal with," said C. Jeffrey Brinker, a University of New Mexico chemical engineer and a senior scientist at the Sandia National Laboratories.

    Moreover, Brinker added, simply by shaking the particles in a jar, they acquire an electric charge, which causes them to repel one another and not clump together. A few passes through a mail-sorting machine would create the same effect. The particles would float, but they would remain separated.

    "This concept of using something that would serve as a dessicant and a carrier at the same time is new," said Harvard University chemical engineer David Edwards. "It's a diabolically brilliant idea."

    Fumed silica has myriad uses, mostly as a thickening agent in products including ceramics, house paint, toothpaste and cosmetics. It is not widely known as an aerosol additive.

    "If you're going to put it into the lung, there has to be a mechanism to clear it, otherwise you just fill up somebody's lung with silica after repeated dosings," said Dalby, of the Aerosol Lab. The anthrax mailer, he noted, obviously wasn't worried about giving his victims silicosis.

    Some fumed silicas are extremely difficult to make, but at least two -- Aerosil and Cab-O-Sil -- are readily available and sold commercially in bulk. Either product, in theory, could be used to coat anthrax spores. Aerosil is based in Germany and Cab-O-Sil, in Boston. Both firms have offices around the world.

    Ken Alibek, a former deputy director of the Soviet bioweapons program now running an Alexandria biotechnology firm, said the Soviets used Aerosil in agent powders, and a classified Defense Department memo in 1991 said Iraq had "imported approximately 100 MT [metric tons] of Aerosil during the last 8-9 years." Spertzel said the United Nations reported in the 1990s that Iraq had 10 metric tons of Cab-O-Sil, probably destined for its chemical weapons program.

    Expensive Equipment

    The United Nations also documented the presence of three Niro Inc. spray dryers in Iraq in the 1990s. Spertzel said two were destroyed, and the third was scoured and sterilized before inspectors could examine it.

    In spray drying, a technician mixes fumed silica and spores with water, then sprays the mist through a nozzle directly into a stream of superheated air shooting from a second nozzle into an enclosed chamber. The water evaporates instantly, leaving spores and additive floating in space.

    "Surface tension will pull those little [silica] particles together onto the big one," said California Institute of Technology chemical engineer Richard Flagan. "You will end up with some degree of coating."

    Whoever made such an aerosol would "need some experience" with aerosols and "would have to have a lot of anthrax, so you could practice," Edwards said. "You'd have to do a lot of trial and error to get the particles you wanted." It would also help to have an electron microscope to examine the results.

    This would mean at least several hundred thousand dollars worth of equipment, several experts said. Niro's cheapest spray dryer sells for about $50,000. Electron microscopes cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

    In all, said Niro's Lancos, "you would need [a] chemist who is familiar with colloidal [fumed] silica, and a material science person to put it all together, and then some mechanical engineers to make this work . . . probably some containment people, if you don't want to kill anybody. You need half a dozen, I think, really smart people."

    One way to assemble such a team would be with "the knowing complicity of the government of the state in which it [the agent] is made," Spertzel said. Another way to acquire the agent, several sources acknowledged, would be to steal it from a biodefense program that uses live biological agents for research or training purposes.

    The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention of 1972 bans offensive biowarfare research, but it clearly allows signatory nations to undertake biodefense programs using small quantities of live agents.

    The Daschle and Leahy letters each contained 1.5 grams of anthrax powder or less, well within the boundaries of what researchers describe as "laboratory quantities" of agent. It is impossible to account publicly for all the anthrax powder that may exist in the United States, because most of the defense projects that use it are classified.

    The Post asked the Defense Department whether the U.S. armed forces have made any anthrax powder comparable to that which was mailed to the Senate. The department declined to comment, citing the ongoing anthrax investigation.

    There is, however, no public evidence that the Army has used spray-dried agents in recent biodefense projects, choosing instead to test small amounts of irradiated -- and therefore nonlethal -- anthrax bacteria that had been dried with older technologies.

    In a written response to questions about the U.S. interpretation of the weapons convention, the Defense Department said its personnel may use live biological agents in a number of research settings: for vaccines and treatment; protective clothing and containment; alarms and detection; and decontamination.

    The department "does not set quantitative thresholds for the agents or toxins in its possession," but "these quantities are generally small," the response said. "DOD continues to evaluate its procedures to ensure dangerous materials are safely stored and properly disposed of when no longer required."

  • #2
    Hmmm, this is interesting...

    U.S. Says Baghdad Is Hiding Anthrax

    By Bill Gertz, The Washington Times

    U.S. intelligence agencies have told U.N. weapons inspectors that Iraq has hidden 7,000 liters of anthrax, but chief inspector Hans Blix never reported the information to the U.N. Security Council, The Washington Times has learned.

    The failure to inform the council has raised questions about whether Mr. Blix will report accurately on anticipated Iraqi obstruction of weapons inspections, which could begin again later this month, said administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

    The recent intelligence assessment of the anthrax about 1,800 gallons is based on sensitive information, including data provided by Iraqi defectors and other U.S. intelligence-gathering means, the officials said.

    U.S. intelligence officials said the anthrax stockpile is believed to be part of the 8,500 liters of anthrax that Iraq's government, after initial denials, admitted in 1995 to producing but told U.N. inspectors that it destroyed.

    The intelligence was reported to the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, known as Unmovic, within the past several months. However, Mr. Blix, the executive chairman of Unmovic, has not reported the information to the members of the Security Council, the officials said.

    Ewen Buchanan, a spokesman for Mr. Blix, would not address the issue of reporting the intelligence directly.

    "Anthrax production in Iraq is clearly an open question," Mr. Buchanan said. "We don't know how much they've produced and whether they've destroyed all that they claimed."

    Mr. Buchanan said previous assessments by the U.N. Special Commission said the Iraqis could have produced three times the 8,500 liters they admitted to having made.

    "This is just the sort of question we would pursue," Mr. Buchanan said of the Iraqi anthrax cache.

    Mr. Blix could not be reached for comment, but he said in a recent television interview that although he respects U.S. and British intelligence agency reports on Iraq's weapons, Unmovic cannot report the intelligence to the Security Council because spy agencies will not disclose their sources.

    Mr. Blix said in an interview with talk-show host Charlie Rose that "the problem is that they will not give you evidence."

    "They will say, 'We are convinced for various reasons that they have one thing or another,' but they will not say where it is," he said on the Oct. 31 broadcast.

    "They will say that, 'Well, we have to protect our sources, so we will not give you evidence,'" he said. "And if some people ask me am I sure that they have weapons of mass destruction, I say, 'If I had that, I would take it to the Security Council straight away.'"

    U.S. intelligence agencies also reported unusual activity at a suspected biological-weapons facility in Iraq, the officials said.

    A CIA report made public last month stated that "Iraq admitted producing thousands of liters of the [biological-warfare] agents anthrax, botulinum toxin and aflatoxin" and had prepared missile warheads and bombs to deliver the weapons.

    "Baghdad did not provide persuasive evidence to support its claims that it unilaterally destroyed its [biological-warfare] agents and munitions," the report said.

    U.N. weapons inspectors said Baghdad's production figures for biological-warfare agents "vastly understated" its actual production and that it could have made two to four times the amount it said it produced, the report said.

    The report said that about 8,000 anthrax spores, or less than one-millionth of a gram, is enough to cause a person to become infected and that inhaled anthrax is "100 percent fatal within five to seven days, although in recent cases, aggressive medical treatment has reduced the fatality rate."

    The disclosure that Unmovic has not reported the intelligence to the Security Council follows the recent approval by the United Nations of Iraq's purchase of a specialty chemical that could be used to enhance Iraq's chemical and biological arms.

    The sale of a shipment of a fine powder known as colloidal silicon dioxide was approved by the U.N. oil-for-food program for Iraq despite objections from the U.S. government amid concerns that the chemical could be used for weapons.

    According to intelligence officials, reports about Iraq's hidden anthrax were bolstered by a former Iraqi government official who defected two years ago but only recently came forward with new information, U.S. officials said.

    The former Iraqi official, who is part of an opposition group of ex-military officers, provided new details about storage sites where Iraq is keeping chemical and biological weapons, the U.S. officials said.

    The defector's accounts have been verified by other intelligence, the officials said.

    The failure to alert the Security Council to the anthrax stockpile has upset some Bush administration officials, who said the information might have helped persuade some members of the council to support tougher U.S. action.

    "If Blix won't report this, what will he do when Iraq obstructs weapons inspectors?" one official asked.

    Representatives of Russia, China and France have opposed U.S. efforts to win council approval of military action against Iraq and the ouster of dictator Saddam Hussein.

    The issue of Iraq's hidden anthrax is likely to emerge in the next month as the United Nations begins a new round of inspections inside Iraq.

    Weapons inspections were halted in 1998 after the Clinton administration began military strikes on Iraq aimed at knocking out suspected chemical-, biological- and nuclear-weapons development sites.

    Army Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of the U.S. forces that would lead any attack on Iraq, said the issue of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction is a key area of concern.

    "The linkages between the government of Iraq and other transnational terrorist organizations like al Qaeda is not the issue with me," Gen. Franks told reporters Oct. 29. "The issue is the potential of a state with weapons of mass destruction passing those weapons of mass destruction to proven terrorist capability. And I believe that that risk exists."


    • #3
      The choice of victims seems a bit inexplicable for me to believe it was an attack from either Al-Qaeda and/or Iraq. I can understand why big Media might be targeted but the choice of Liberal Democrat politicians doesn't seem like an obvious one, unless they desired to divert attention to a rightwing nutjob. However, if you didn't desire credit, what then was the purpose for the attack?


      • #4
        Originally posted by Tex
        The choice of victims seems a bit inexplicable for me to believe it was an attack from either Al-Qaeda and/or Iraq. I can understand why big Media might be targeted but the choice of Liberal Democrat politicians doesn't seem like an obvious one, unless they desired to divert attention to a rightwing nutjob. However, if you didn't desire credit, what then was the purpose for the attack?
        The paranoiac in me sees eerie similarities to the burning of the Reichstag. What better way to stampede politicians into supporting an all-out assault on civil liberties?

        The timing of the mailings is too much of a coincidence for me to think that it was anything other than a dirty tricks operation that was waiting in the wings for just the sort of national emergency as the 9/11 hijackings to occur. In this way, a ready made scapegoat is presented at precisely the moment that hysteria is highest and reason least availed to.

        If I disappear, then you know I was right. Even if I don't, you can't be sure that I'm not...
        I have no problem at all with being proved wrong. Especially when being proved wrong leaves the world a better place, than being proved right...


        • #5
          lol... James, I wonder why they chose Mel Gibson to play the Conspiracy Theory..... you probably would be much better
          Attn to ALL my opponents:

          If you sent me your turn and after 24 hours, you still did not get anything from me, please be sure to post in the forum to ask for what is going on.

          Remember, I ALWAYS reply within 24 hours, even if I do NOT have time to play my turn, in which case I will at least send you email to tell you that I will have to play it later, but I DO receive your turn.


          Latest Topics


          • casanova
            by casanova
            The Sowjet T-34 tank against a German Tiger tank in Berlin in the II World War in 1945. ...
            Yesterday, 23:41
          • casanova
            AW 169M
            by casanova
            The Austrian minister of defence Klaudia Tanner declared the buy of 18 Italian military helicopters of the type AW 169M for the Austrian army, the Bundesheer....
            Yesterday, 23:26
          • JBark
            What changed?
            by JBark
            There was a time not too long ago when this forum was full of discussion, multiple posts, votes and involved discussions on the best of the war, etc.,...
            Yesterday, 18:54